10 a day. Really?

A couple of weeks ago, it was reported that eating 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day significantly reduced the risk of death from the main killers of our time – heart disease, stroke and cancer (http://tinyurl.com/hpb4ctl)

This is really good news! However, many may feel like Munch’s ‘Scream’ – not more veggies to have to force down during the day! The Department of Health adopted the 5 a day campaign in 2003. If you are horrified at the thought of having to eat more, you’re not alone – studies indicate that only 25% of men and 28% of women in the UK hit that target and that on average children eat only 3 portions a day.

You may have noticed that here in The Sensitive Foodie Kitchen, we’re a bit partial to the old fruit and veg! Most my recipes have plants snuck in some way, even in the cakes! That’s mainly because they taste awesome, but also because they really do help to heal and to maintain health due to their array of amazing nutrients. It’s this benefit that the research is focused on – a detailed analysis of 95 separate studies that covered up to 2 million people revealed that the more fresh fruit and vegetables eaten, the lower the death rate from chronic disease. Eating even a small amount makes a difference, so really anything is better than nothing, but 10 is the magic number they came to when it comes to maxing out the benefits.

Before you reluctantly fish out 10 portions of carrots to munch through every day, think again. Not only would that be really boring and potentially not very good for you, it’s 10 different types of fruit and veg that’s needed. Variety really is the key. That’s why I always recommend eating a rainbow every day. Not only is it pleasing to the eye, but your body will love it too as you will receive the full range of micronutrients and phytonutrients it so loves. And if you have food sensitivities and intolerances, it’s a great way to help your gut and your body heal (as long as you avoid the item/s that are upsetting you!).

So is 10 portions a day realistic? Getting more lovely plant based produce into the diet is one of the things we cover on my Eat Well Live Well course where I show you how to do it, plus give you a whole selection of recipes to keep you interested and motivated. So I can definitely confirm it is – with a little bit of forward planning and focus. The three main things to do is:

  • have a bowl of fresh vegetable soup every day
  • eat a salad every day
  • eat a good portion of cooked vegetables every day

Just doing these three simple things will wack up your veggie intake alone. Add in a 2-3 portions of fruit a day and you’re there.

Never expecting anyone to do anything I wouldn’t, here is a run down of what I ate today – lets see if I managed to get to 10:

Breakfast – fruit and nut muesli with almond milk, ground flaxseed, a portion of blueberries (1) and a banana (2)
Lunch – vegetable and lentil soup (3&4) with a hummus wrap and salad (5).

Snack – apple (6)

Dinner – vegetable lasagna – dairy free and gluten free, of course (7), baked sweet potato (8) with salad (9&10) and fruit crumble (11).

Done! And that’s why I always recommend a whole food plant based diet – it’s easy to reach this target and eat fabulous food in the process.

So why not have a look at what you eat each day, and if you’re slightly off track, look at making some simple additions to get great benefits. And if you feel you need more, why not come along to my next course starting on 25th April in Hove – follow the link for more information http://thesensitivefoodiekitchen.com/5-week-course-2/

Happy munching!



Chia-up – breakfast cheer

Getting a good breakfast can be a challenge at times, especially if you’re short of time or have run out of inspiration. It’s easy to get stuck in the same routine, grab the nearest empty calorie cereal or, worse, have nothing at all.

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day – your body has been fasting over night and needs good fuel to get it going again. And it doesn’t have to be boring, even though cereals and toast sometimes seems like the only things to have. When you’re eating a dairy or gluten free diet, you do need to get a bit imaginative at times.

There’s loads of different things on offer to power you up for the day – just because you don’t have time for a full English (or it’s veggie equivalent!) doesn’t mean you have to miss out.

Planning the morning meal is as important as any other during the day, so keep ahead of the game, and if mornings are a rush, prepare it the night before.

This chia breakfast bowl is one of the recipes that features in my Eat Well, Live Well course, a five week foray into the world of eating a whole food plant based diet. It’s so simple to make, tastes fabulous and is packed full of amazing nutrients and fibre that will keep you going all the way to lunch. Because of it’s high fibre content and lack of refined sugar, you won’t get that sugar dip mid-morning.

Chia seeds are part of the ‘in crowd’ at the moment. But rather than just another nutrition fad, these tiny little black seeds really are worth the hype. Just a couple of tablespoons gives you 5g of protein, 11g of fibre and are a great source of plant based omega 3 fatty acids. There’s also fabulous amounts of calcium, manganese, magnesium and phosphorous, plus zinc and vitamins B1, 2 and 3. Not only that, there are loads of anti-oxidants that help munch up free radicals that damage our bodies and contribute towards the ageing process.

The fibre content of chia seeds is amazing – not only will it help keep you full for longer, it helps keep your gut happy, providing food for the friendly bacteria deep down that aid digestion and absorption of nutrients, but also keeps our guts a healthy and happy place. And the nutrient profile of these seeds is perfect for bone health – a clean source of protein and lots of calcium, magnesium and phosphorous, all essential to keep bones healthy and strong.

This chia breakfast bowl only takes a couple of minutes to make before you go to bed;  the chia seeds swell up in the milk overnight, so when you grab it in the morning, it’s all thick and gooey, and ready to get you going. There’s all sorts of toppings you can add – hemp seeds, fruit, coconut etc – or just eat it as it is. On the photo, I’ve added some ground hemp seeds with goji berries and passion fruit.

So think ahead, and have a chia-full day!

Chia seed breakfast bowl
1 small banana
2 tablespoons chia seeds
200ml dairy free milk of choice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Toppings: passion fruit, berries, mango, strawberries – whatever you enjoy really!

Mash the banana in the bottom of a bowl. Pour the chia seeds in then add the milk. Stir in the cinnamon, then place in the fridge overnight. Add your toppings of choice in the morning, and enjoy!

Original kedgeree

Every now and then my husband gets the urge to have a session in the kitchen. Apart from the inevitable mess, I love it when he’s inspired to try out something different – not only does it give me the night off, but it’s usually something he’s been thinking about for a while and researched within an inch of it’s life. Big contrast to my sudden inspiration, throwing things together to see what happens approach!

He’s been mainly plant based for over a year and a half now which is quite a surprise to both of us! Having gone for it, he’s quite happy not to go back eating to meat and dairy for now as it stops him from pigging out on pastries and burgers. There are a few things he misses though (thankfully beer is plant based). Oddly, one is kedgeree, something we rarely ate but obviously on his list of ‘foods I love’. So he decided to get researching to make a completely plant based version.

It didn’t take him long to discover the original version of kedgeree – kichiri, a simple Indian comfort food, traditionally given to those under the weather. Legend has it that kedgeree, which includes milk, fish and egg, was devised by Colonial Brits in India, then brought back to England, although according to Wikipedia, there is some contention that it appeared in Scotland in the 1700’s; the India connection remains intact though. When exactly a fish, rice and egg combo became a breakfast dish, I’m not so sure.

Kichiri is the perfectly balanced plant based dish. A mixture of rice, lentils and some super spices, it’s tasty, satisfying and remarkably moreish despite the simplicity. The lentils give it a little bit of texture and it’s aromatic rather than spiciness, so gentler on the palate.

Rice and lentils create the perfect plant based protein – both these lovelies contain the full range of essential amino acids. Even though it’s one of the top arguments detractors will come up with when you decide to go plant based, there’s no fear about missing out on protein as long as you eat a wide range of products. And of course wholegrain is best as more nutrients are retained. And lentils give you much more than just protein – they also have a wonderful dollop of fibre, manganese, iron and B vitamins amongst others.

A cucumber raita completes this dish perfectly – using dairy free yoghurt of course! You could get flashy and add make a little spicy tempering to go on the top – toasted cumin and mustard seeds with a couple of dried red chillis and some fresh curry leaves to finish. Lovely.

So why not give this a go and see what you think – is definitely different to kedgeree but still comfortably familiar!

Kichiri (serves 4)
160g green lentils
270g wholegrain basmati rice
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 onion, diced
1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
pinch of salt
1 litre water
couple of handfuls fresh coriander
Heat a glug of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the cumin and black mustard seeds until they start to pop. Add the onion and ginger and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring so it doesn’t burn. Add the carrot and red pepper and cook for another minute or so, then add the garlic, rice and lentils as well as the ground coriander, turmeric and salt and cook on a low heat stirring all the time. After a minute or so, carefully pour in the water, bring to the boil and pop on the lid. Turn the heat down low and cook for 15-20 minutes until the water has been absorbed and the lentils are tender. Turn off the heat, and leave to steam for a couple of minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle fresh coriander over the top to serve. Enjoy!

Steve’s Saturday night squash curry

As much as I love cooking, it’s always a treat when someone else does it for a change. Because of work and travel commitments, my hubby Steve doesn’t get many opportunities to get creative in the kitchen, so when he offers to cook it’s always a treat, especially as I was out all day yesterday, so it was a real relief to come home and be served with a piping hot dinner.

Steve does what I call ‘man’s cooking’ – lots of ingredients all prepped before hand (often with lots of washing up!), loud music and always a beer on the go. Not that this is a criticism, just a little observation – whatever is needed to maximise the cooking experience (although the number of beers could potentially be directly linked to the outcome of the dish – “hic!”).

Having lived in India and spent time in South Africa, Steve has picked up a few tricks and makes a mean veggie curry, all dairy free of course. Aware of my veg box blogging challenge, he did check what I had planned to make – a sweet mama squash and chickpea curry – so now I’m writing about his version of what I had planned in my head!

Squash and chickpeas go together really well in terms of flavour, texture and nutrition. I’ve already talked about what nutritional powerhouses they are (Thursday stuffed squash and Friday’s pancakes), as well as fabulous sources of fibre that your gut will love. They also both work wonderfully with spices, and complement each other superbly.

Of course, spices add more than just colour and flavour to a dish; they contain amazing healing properties that have been used for thousands of years, but science is only just beginning to understand how.

Cumin, for example Turmeric has long been used for it’s anti-inflammatory and anti-septic properties, but the active ingredient – curcumin – has only recently been identified and researched. It seems that the amazing properties in turmeric can help relieve all sorts of ailments from period problems, to IBS, to joint pain to cancer. In fact, there is so much to say about turmeric, there’s no way enough room here, so let’s just say it’s amazing and should be included in your diet as much as possible!

Steve likes the base of his curry sauces to cook down over a period of time to concentrate the flavours; this doesn’t take that much longer, but really does deepen the flavour.

There are a couple of interloper ingredients again, but from the veg box he used an onion, two of the carrots and the second half of the sweet mama squash. There was (and still is!) loads, so this recipe feeds a hungry crew easily.

Play around with the spices to get the heat level you desire – I’ve only given approximations here, as I’m not really too sure exactly how much was put in! Needless to say, it was super tasty, and all the more special as I didn’t have to cook!

Steve’s Saturday night squash curry
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
1-2 red chilli, chopped
3-4 tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon curry powder/garam masala
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 sweet mama squash cut into smallish chunks
2 carrots, diced
1 courgette, diced
1/3 small cauliflower, chopped (optional)
400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper
Heat a dash of olive oil in the bottom of a pan and cook the onion for a couple of minutes until soft. Add the garlic, ginger and chill and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring all the time so it doesn’t burn. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and let it cook down for a few minutes. Stir in the spices and add some water to make a thick sauce. Cook down on a low heat, adding a bit more water for 15 minutes or so until the flavours have developed.
Add the squash and carrot chunks, covering them well with the sauce, adding a little more water to almost cover. Pop on a lid, bring to the boil, and simmer for 5 -10 minutes until the veg begin to soften. Add in the courgette, cauliflower and chickpeas and simmer until all the veg are soft and the sauce has thickened up nicely. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with popadoms and steamed brown rice.

Little balls of happiness

It’s mid afternoon and that familiar feeling comes creeping in – the slump. Tired, lethargic and craving something sweet, particularly if lunch was a meagre, hurried affair. A few hours later, your body is demanding something satisfying, and now!

A cup of tea and a slice of cake – that’ll do nicely! Whilst there’s nothing wrong with a mighty fine cake on occasion, consuming something that’s packed full of refined sugars, fats and flour (plus various additives if it’s not home made) whenever the slump hits is not sustainable in the long run. It may hit all the pleasure spots, but that quick release of sugar won’t last, and before long you’ll be hunting for more sugar satisfaction. As for biscuits, they may be even worse as it’s tempting to keep cramming them in until the end of the packet!

You need balls to deal with this problem – energy balls! Packed full of nuts, dried fruit, seeds or oats, these little lovelies are filled to the brim with healthy fats, complex carbs and soul soothing sweetness that will satisfy your cravings, boost your energy and see you comfortably through to dinner time. And because they’re full of whole foods rather than refined products, they’re super filling so there’s only so many you can eat at one time.

Not only that, they’re quick to make, store well and being raw, they are nutrient dense and packed with fibre, so keep your gut happy and working well. The nut based ones are gluten free too and of course they’re all dairy free and plant based.

The recipe for my original energy balls can be found here – http://foodiesensitive.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/sweet-treat-raw-and-dairy-free.html. These are still a firm favourite. But if you need a nut free version because of allergies or school lunch box restrictions (kids love these – honest!) then try these oat based ones.

Oat and seed energy balls
1 cup oas
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup stoned dates
½ cup dried cranberries
>½ cup raisins
1-2 tablespoons orange juice
dessicated coconut
Put sunflower seeds and dates in food processor and chop until fine. Add oats, cranberries, raisins and blitz until chopped. Add orange juice and blitz again until combined and sticking together (not too much juice)
Take a teaspoon of mix and roll into a ball then roll the ball in the coconut. Repeat.

Finally, for a slightly less dense and fresher flavour, try these lemon and nut wonders that are deceptively filling and so satisfying.

Luscious lemony balls
1 cup cashew nuts
1 cup desiccated coconut
Grated rind of one lemon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup
pinch of salt
Put the cashew nuts and desiccated coconut into the food processor and whizz for a few moments until broken down. Add the remain ingredients and blend until combined and sticking together. Take out a teaspoon of the mixture and roll into a ball – this mix is slightly drier than the others so needs a delicate touch.

Curry comfort

Our time living in Indian widened our horizons in many ways. Food wise, we discovered a cornucopia of different South Indian ‘curries’ most of which we had never come across before in the UK. Most curry houses in the UK serve North Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani routed food, adapted to the British taste (lots of sauce!). These dishes tend to be rich, tomato based, heavy with cream and featuring meat. South Indian food consists of a huge amount of vegetarian dishes, many enhanced with coconut, either milk or freshly ground, making them rich but not heavy.

Coconut is a regular ingredient on my blog – I love it, not only for it’s wonderful creamy taste, but it’s amazing health benefits. Coconut meat and milk are high in fat, there’s no getting away from it, but the fat is medium-chain saturated fats which research shows is actually health promoting rather than detrimental like many saturated animal fats. And of course, being plant based, it contains no cholesterol, a fact my friend was surprised about when I told her. Placed on a cholesterol reducing diet by her GP (better than being given statins that’s for sure), it was on the list of food to avoid due to  it’s high cholesterol content. In fact the oil in coconut helps improve a person’s cholesterol, increasing healthy HDL cholesterol.

Lauric acid is one of the main fatty acids in coconut; this converts to other compounds in the body and had an array of beneficial effects including acting as an anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal and if eaten as coconut meat, the fibre promotes these properties, contributing to a healthy gut.

I love to make vegetable Malabar curry on a cold and windy day as there’s just something so warming and comforting about it. Rich and flavoursome, I feel wrapped in a soothing warmth. Malabar curries come from the Kerala area, often as a fish curry. Although truly Indian, it has Chinese roots and developed along the coast. The warm, comforting element comes from the inclusion of a mixture of cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, all medicinal herbs in their own right. Cloves have an anti-inflammatory effect as well as a mild anaesthetic (oil of cloves for toothache), cinnamon has compounds that aid digestion and help reduce muscle spasm (amongst other effects) and cardamon is sometimes used as an anti-depressant.

Make this super healthy by using red, orange and green vegetables, packed full of nutrients and anti-oxidants to keep the winter bugs at bay. And of course by using coconut, it’s completely dairy free.
Although there is a long list of ingredients in this recipe, it’s actually pretty easy to make. You can buy a malabar curry mix from your local Indian store, but be careful, as these can contain a large amount of salt. It’s pretty easy to make your own, so I make it fresh each time. Serve this up on a blustery evening with a warm roti or pile of steamed rice (brown of course!) and let yourself be enveloped with a soothing warmth which, with any luck, will transport your mind, if not your body, to warmer climes.

Vegetable Malabar Curry<
Spice mix:2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 whole cloves
4 cardamon pods
Vegetable mix:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 spring curry leaves
Asafoetida – pinch (miss if you can’t find it)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 onions chopped
2 fresh tomatoes, pureed
1 cup chopped carrot or sweet potato
1 cup green veg (beans, broccoli)
couple of handfuls sweetcorn or peas
1 tin coconut milk
up to 1 cup warm water
fresh coriander to garnish
First, make your spice mix. Bash the cardamon pods in a pestle and mortar to release the seeds. Grind seeds with the cloves until fine and mix in the cinnamon.

Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the mustard seed, asafoetida and curry leaves until the seeds splutter. Add the onion and ginger and cook until the onion is soft. Pour in the pureed tomatoes and a pinch of salt, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the chilli powder, turmeric, spice mix, vegetables and mix well to coat. Pour in the water and simmer with the lid on until the vegetables are cooked.
Turn off the heat and pour in the coconut milk. Stir well and heat on a low flame for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper as needed, sprinkle the fresh coriander over the top, and enjoy

‘Cheesy’ cauliflower soup or a pasta bake

Back in August last year, I posted a recipe using cauliflower as a base for a white sauce http://foodiesensitive.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/saucy-cauliflower.html. Since then, I have experimented further with the good old cauli and discovered another way to make a sauce that tastes remarkably like cheese sauce. Doesn’t seem possible I know, but it’s not just me that thinks that – my family have commented on it’s cheesy-ness (dairy and non-dairy eaters alike) as well as it’s general gorgeousness

And the secret – roast the cauliflower florets first.

The idea actually came from soup, as so many good things do! Browsing through my Rachel Allen cook book, I found her recipe for cauliflower soup that included the use of ground almonds to thicken the texture. At the same time, I remembered a Guardian newspaper article featuring the 10 best cauliflower recipes (I do read a lot about food!), one of which had been a whole roasted cauli. Roasting concentrates the sugars in the florets, caramelising them slightly as well as giving a slight nutty flavour. It’s delicious just by itself. The magic comes by adding it to a base of onion, garlic and ground almonds and simmering it in some stock. Once pureed, it somehow tastes cheesy, and has a slightly coarse cheesy texture.

What’s more, it doesn’t take long to make it. In fact, my first experiment with roasting was to make the soup, which I actually made in the morning before going to work. I was so excited about the flavour I force fed it to everyone whilst they were trying to eat their breakfast (it doesn’t go so well with porridge apparently!). For the pasta bake, the sauce takes the same time to cook as the pasta, and the oven is already hot and ready to use for the baking, so it’s an easy, midweek supper for when you’re running low on time and inspiration.

And the ultimately amazing fact about this soup/sauce is that it is dairy free, gluten free and just perfect for a plant based whole food diet.  Low in fat, high in fibre, packed with nutrients and generally just fabulous. If you think I’m over excited, try it for yourself and you’ll understand why!

Roasted cauliflower soup
1 medium sized cauli, broken into florets
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
olive oil
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons ground almonds
1 litre veg stock
600ml almond milk
salt and pepper
Heat the oven to 180oC. Pop a tiny amount of olive oil onto a roasting tray and spread the cauliflower florets out over it, turning them around to spread the oil. Place in the oven for 10 minutes or so until the florets start to caramelise (see picture). Remove from the oven.
Whilst the cauli is roasting, heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a large pan and gently sauté the onion until soft. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for a minute or so. Don’t let it burn. Stir in the ground almonds, then add the roasted cauli, bay leaves and enough stock to cover. Simmer for another 10 minutes or so until the cauliflower is well cooked. Turn off the heat and cool slightly, remove the bay leaves, then transfer to a blender, adding the almond milk and seasoning. Blend until you get a voluptuously thick puree, adding more milk or stock as needed to get a good soupy consistency. Return to the pan, check the seasoning, add more as needed, reheat and serve.

‘Cheesy’ cauliflower pasta bake
Ingredients as above, omitting the almond milk.
400g wholewheat or brown rice pasta
2 large tomatoes, sliced
few handfuls of baby spinach (optional)
Put a large pan of water on to boil and cook the pasta according to packet instructions. In the meantime, follow the recipe as above. When adding the stock, use enough to just cover the cauli and no more – you can always add more later if needed. Once the cauliflower mix has been through the blending process, it should be thick and very sauce-like. If too thick, add a little more stock.
Drain the cooked pasta and pour in the cheesy cauliflower sauce, mixing well and adding more seasoning if needed (seasoning really is key to this dish). Mix together well. Spread out the spinach over the base of a large baking dish and pour the pasta and cauliflower sauce over the top. Place the tomato slices on the top and bake in the oven for 10 minutes or so until the tomatoes are cooked and the top slightly brown. Serve with some extra greens if required and enjoy!